Considering the amount of coverage spent on who is not playing the 50th edition of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the fact that Katy Perry was delivering her first full-length show since August seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Even without a full production Perry created a striking spectacle, one that was largely out of character with other acts appearing on the largest of the festival’s 14 stages. She did add a few heartwarming touches that helped her to stay in line with the festival’s overall flavor — a bit of humor, local surprise guests and two vintage covers that may well have been played on the various stages celebrating the city’s musical heritage.
Perry provided a marked contrast to the multitude of acts that played during the festival’s first two days. She’s a star, an entertainer, one who commands the stage with her visuals and front-and-center approach to performance — her band and backup singers were usually positioned behind her as she romped her way from one hit to next, moving from “I Kissed a Girl” to “Bon Appetit” and 14 others, including a sharp reading of Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit “What Have You Done for Me Lately.”
The exception in Perry’s show, the doses of unforced charm, came when she performed “Pendulum” and “Chained to the Rhythm” with the Soul Rebels brass band and, later in the set, when she covered the Louisiana classic “Iko Iko.” Here, Perry was a bandmember sharing the spotlight and engaging with the folks onstage as much as she was addressing the packed field of fans. She closed with a spirited “Oh Happy Day,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers gospel crossover hit from five decades ago.
Intriguingly, Perry’s set came but a couple of hours after Lauren Daigle’s breezy performance at JazzFest’s second largest stage. Daigle, now signed to Doug Morris’s 12 Tone label, is attempting to make a similar leap to the one Perry did a decade ago — cross over to pop from a Christian music background. Daigle’s latest release, “Look Up Child,” has been a consistent Top 20 seller at iTunes for more than six months making her one of the most commercially potent acts in the fest’s eight days of 600-plus performers.
Beyond a vibe of “be happy, people,” the one element they share is dressing their band in matching outfits — Perry’s musicians wore pink while she spent most of the set in a one-piece with a piano keyboard motif; Daigle and her dozen musicians wore tie-dye — and both used cover songs that made statements: Daigle dove headfirst into Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” and crooned Bob Marley’s “One Love” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
The comparisons end there. As a performer: Perry is combination of power and control with a hint of giddiness; Daigle exudes bliss. She does not push her voice around a song a la Perry, choosing instead to work a pleasant conversational tone that’s as gentle as a lullaby. There’s more reggae than gospel in her songs, the idea that we’re living under God’s watchful eye being understood rather than commanded directly. Perry delivered what her fans expected; the 8,000 or so gathered to see Daigle got something to believe in.
The 50th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival continues today with Van Morrison as the headliner and from Thursday through May 5 with Widespread Panic, Trombone Shorty and the Dave Matthews band headlining.